Israel says Hamas planned to assassinate Lieberman in West Bank

Israel has arrested four Palestinians suspected of planning to kill Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with an anti-tank rocket while he drove to his Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Israeli officials say.

The alleged Hamas plot was hatched during the July-August war in Gaza. Its disclosure comes as ties fray between Israel and U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank, over a contested Jerusalem shrine.

A statement by Israel's domestic intelligence service Shin Bet identified three of the detainees as Hamas members and, citing their confessions under interrogation, said they had hoped killing Lieberman “would relay a message to the State of Israel that would bring about an end to the Gaza war”.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip although it is formally under Abbas' rule, neither confirmed nor denied the allegations.

“We have no information about this issue. However, we stress that leaders of the Occupation (Israel) who are responsible for the killing of children and women and for defiling the sacred sites are legitimate targets for the resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

The four Palestinians live near Nokdim settlement, where Lieberman has a home. They had carried out surveillance on the far-right diplomat's convoy and tried to obtain a rocket-propelled grenade to attack it, the Shin Bet said.

The Shin Bet described the alleged plot as a sign that Islamist Hamas, which Abbas's forces had suppressed in the West Bank after a 2007 Palestinian civil war, were stepping up their activities in the territory and adjoining East Jerusalem.

Hamas militants abducted and murdered three Israeli youths in the West Bank in June, triggering the murder by Jews of a Palestinian teenager from Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards, Israel launched a 50-day offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip with the aim of stopping rocket fire out of the enclave.

Israeli access to Jerusalem's most sacred compound, which houses Islam's third-holiest mosque and where Biblical Jewish Temples once stood, has further inflamed Palestinians, leading to lethal attacks on Jews in city streets and in a synagogue.

Israel's talks with Abbas on founding a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem collapsed in April and it has accused him of inciting violence since. This is disputed, however, by security officials, who credit Abbas's forces with curbing many West Bank threats.

Report: Israel approves 800 West Bank housing units

Israel approved a plan to build more than 800 housing units in the West Bank.

Israel’s Defense Ministry told The Associated Press Monday that it had approved planning for the housing in five settlements earlier this month.

The plans for Givat Ze’ev, Nofei Prat, Shiloh, Givat Salit and Nokdim had been announced last month as part of 20,000 West Bank housing unit starts hours after Israel’s release of 26 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, part of an agreement to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

A day later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the plans for the 20,000 West Bank housing units canceled after pressure from the United States.

Announcements of new construction projects in the West Bank have spurred problems in the current U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Israeli court orders halt to construction in West Bank settlement

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the state to halt construction of 40 homes in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

The court issued the injunction Thursday in reviewing a petition filed by Palestinian residents near the settlement, Army Radio reported.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said in an interview with Army Radio that the plan to build the 40-home project “has nothing to do” with the visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began on Thursday.

Kerry, who has met multiple times since assuming his job in February with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, hopes to jumpstart peace talks. In the past, Palestinians and some peace activists have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of timing building launches to sabotage such peace bids.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio the plans were approved by his predecessor, Ehud Barak.

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Municipality approved construction permits for 69 new homes in Har Homa, a neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have demanded Israel halt construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank before peace talks resume. Israel says such talks should go ahead without preconditions.

The U.S. State Department called Israel’s continued settlement construction “unproductive” and “unhelpful” to US efforts to bring the sides back to the negotiating table, a department official told Bloomberg News on condition of anonymity.